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Animated 'Spider-Man' to top 'The Mule' and 'Mortal Engines' at the box office

Animated 'Spider-Man' to top 'The Mule' and 'Mortal Engines' at the box office
Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, in a scene from "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. (Sony Pictures Animation)

An innovative animated take on the “Spider-Man” superhero franchise is expected to top the North American box office this weekend, proving that the Marvel comic book character still has legs after multiple big-screen reboots, reimaginings and retoolings.

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Sony Pictures Animation’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is expected to open with $32 million to $39 million in ticket sales from the U.S. and Canada through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys. The studio is projecting a more conservative $30-million opening.

The movie, which hits theaters Thursday evening, should easily beat Clint Eastwood’s drug-running drama “The Mule” and Universal Pictures’ dystopian epic “Mortal Engines,” which looks like an expensive flop.

The new “Spider-Man” will unseat Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” which has collected $140 million domestically so far and has led grosses in the U.S. and Canada for three weeks straight.

Here’s what to watch:

Across the Spider-Verse

If any movie property is vulnerable to franchise fatigue, it’s Spider-Man, a character who’s been played in live-action movies by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and, most recently, Tom Holland.

For the $90-million animated version, Culver City-based Sony took a different route, enlisting producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”) and a trio of directors. Instead of focusing on the venerable Peter Parker, the film centers on Miles Morales, a Brooklyn-based Spidey with African American and Puerto Rican lineage. It also employs an unusual animation style, combining the techniques of 3-D computer graphics and hand-drawn cartooning.

The obvious risks appear to have paid off so far, earning the film enthusiastic reviews from critics, indicated by a 99% “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a Golden Globe nomination for best animation picture.

Hera Hilmar in "Mortal Engines," which is poised for a box-office debut of about $10 million.
Hera Hilmar in "Mortal Engines," which is poised for a box-office debut of about $10 million. (Universal Pictures/MRC)

Mere mortals

“Mortal Engines,” a big-budget adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name, seems destined for trouble at the domestic box office. The movie, which cost at least $100 million to make after production incentives, is expected to premiere with a weak $10 million to $15 million in ticket sales through Sunday, according to analysts.

The steampunk-infused film boasts an impressive pedigree, co-written by “Lord of the Rings” maestro Peter Jackson and directed by his longtime collaborator Christian Rivers. But “Mortal Engines” has faced lackluster reviews and lacks big-name actors who could boost its prospects. Beverly Hills-based Media Rights Capital co-produced and co-financed the picture with Comcast-owned Universal.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is releasing “The Mule,” the latest directorial effort by Eastwood, who most recently made “The 15:17 to Paris.” “The Mule,” which stars Eastwood as a down-on-his-luck horticulturist in his 80s who trucks drugs for a Mexican cartel, is expected to open with $12 million to $20 million.

‘Favourite’ to win?

Fox Searchlight’s critically acclaimed costume drama “The Favourite,” a probable competitor in the Oscars’ best picture race, will continue its expansion this week after a strong start in limited release. The film, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”), is expected to run in 440 theaters this weekend after grossing $3.5 million so far in as many as 91 locations.

In limited release, Annapurna Pictures will unveil “If Beale Street Could Talk,” adapted from the James Baldwin novel by Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York. Both “The Favourite” and “Beale Street” garnered multiple Golden Globe nominations last week.

The box office will get even more crowded Dec. 21 when Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman” and Paramount’s “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee” launch. “Aquaman,” the latest DC comic book film, enjoyed a strong opening in China last weekend, collecting $94 million in ticket sales from the world’s second-largest box-office market.

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